A growing body of research suggests that adopting certain lifestyle habits can bolster the brain and keep your memory sharp while you age. That said, as the years accumulate, keeping your brain sharp gets more challenging.
“The speed with which we process information tends to decline with age,” explains Brent A. Funk, Psy.D., a neuropsychologist at Henry Ford Health. “That may show up as a memory problem because people aren’t able to absorb information as it comes in.” But the good news? “Memory loss isn’t a ‘normal’ part of aging,” says Dr. Funk.
How To Keep Your Brain Engaged
Like our other organs, the brain benefits most from maintaining healthy lifestyle habits. Want to stay sharp into your golden years and beyond? Try these 4 strategies:
1. Get moving.
Exercise increases blood flow to every organ in the body, including your noggin. In fact, studies suggest that cardiovascular exercise (the kind that gets your heart pumping) may help you maintain your ability to think clearly, multitask and plan ahead. To improve the brain benefits of exercise, select an activity that requires you to think while you’re moving, such as playing tennis, pickleball, dancing or practicing yoga or tai chi.
2. Eat healthily.
A diet composed mostly of whole foods is as good for your brain as it is for your heart. Omega 3 fatty acids, found in some fish, help reduce inflammation and enhance blood flow to the brain. Same goes for monounsaturated fats like those found in olive oil and avocado, which reduce plaque buildup in arteries. Antioxidants in fruits and vegetables appear to slow down memory loss.
Stock your fridge with standout brain-boosting foods: fatty fish (such as salmon, herring and mackerel), leafy greens, nuts and berries. In fact, studies consistently show that following a Mediterranean-style diet—fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, olive oil—has brain-boosting benefits.
3. Challenge your mind.
Brainteasers like crossword puzzles, word games and even an intense game of chess are some of the best brain-boosting activities, according to Dr. Funk. They help take you out of your comfort zone and present new challenges for you to sort out. You could also try:
- Learning a new language
- Picking up a musical instrument
- Planning a day trip or vacation to somewhere new with a friend
Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something you enjoy so you’re more apt to stick with it.
4. Become a social butterfly.
A strong social network is a major key to brain health. “Humans are social creatures,” says Dr. Funk. “Areas of the brain respond specifically to social interactions because they require a lot of different cognitive processes all at once.” Making friends as you get older is especially important since it not only enhances brain power, it also seems to ward off depression, which is not good for brain function.
While it’s great to maintain friends your age, make a point to seek out interactions with people from younger generations. Developing friendships with people in different age groups may increase the challenge to your brain since it requires you to tailor your language to the appropriate age.
Healthy Habits For Boosting Brain Function
Lifestyle modifications that are good for your brain health are also usually great for your overall health and wellness. If you don't already, adopt these habits:
- Don’t smoke
- Sleep 7-8 hours a night
- Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check
- Eat a low-fat, healthy diet
- Get plenty of exercise
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Get blood sugar levels (and diabetes, if you have it) under control
“As people become more aware of the changes that occur with aging, there is more anxiety about whether their memory is working, but everyone’s memory is fallible,” says Dr. Funk. You may have to take notes, keep a detailed calendar or use your smart phone to log in reminders, but that doesn’t mean your memory is on the fritz.
Problems tend to arise when memory difficulties begin to interfere with your daily life. So don’t fret if you went to the grocery store and forgot to purchase one of the items on your mental list. But if you forgot why or whether you went to the store, it’s time to check in with a health professional.
Dr. Brent Funk is a neuropyschologist seeing patients in the Henry Ford Department of Behavioral Health at One Ford Place in Detroit.